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The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400-1000 (Penguin History of Europe (Viking))

3.7 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 860-1400126332
ISBN-10: 0670020982
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Building on the foundation he laid in Framing the Early Middle Ages, award-winning Oxford historian Wickham constructs a magisterial narrative of the political, economic, cultural and religious fabrics that constituted the crazy quilt of Europe's Dark Ages. Negating what he calls a common teleological view of this period as the source of European nations and a modern sense of European identity, he draws on archeological evidence and rich historiographical methods Wickham challenges standard views of the early Middle Ages as barbarous and bereft of political and cultural structure, and recreates a stunning portrait of the breakup of the Roman Empire and its consequences for Europe. Wickham looks at the immediate post-Roman polities in Gaul, Spain and Italy; the history of Byzantium, the Arab caliphate and its 10th-century successor states, including Muslim Spain; the Carolingian Empire and its successors and imitators, notably Russia and Scotland. Under this narrative layer lies a focus on the accumulation of wealth, the institutionalization of politics and the culture of the public. Wickham's achievement contributes richly to our picture of this often narrowly understood period. Maps, illus. (Aug. 3)
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From The New Yorker

Just as astronomers no longer call Pluto a planet and paleontologists no longer recognize the Brontosaurus, historians have stopped referring to the European era from A.D. 400 to 1000 as the Dark Ages. The latest scholarship, Wickham explains, has made it possible to look at the period “without hindsight,” without moral judgments, grand theories, or modern nationalist myths. The result sounds like a historiographical stunt: a single volume that, using only a slender and unreliable documentary record and no narrative crutches, covers six centuries and at least seven major rival powers. Wickham largely pulls it off. His wide net catches some striking comparisons: apparently, all early medieval societies used coins except Ireland, “where valuations were in slave women and cows.” If anything, Wickham is too careful, reluctant to draw conclusions about an epoch that, no matter what new discoveries are made, will likely remain in partial eclipse.
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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin History of Europe (Viking) (Book 2)
  • Hardcover: 688 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (July 30, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670020982
  • ASIN: B003JTHRH8
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.6 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,545,540 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is a challenging book to read. There is so much information crammed into every page that you have to read slowly or you'll miss something. And there are 550 pages of this. Having the information crammed so tight doesn't exactly make for an engaging read, but it is worthwhile. This book covers the entire Dark Ages and a bit before, giving a broad overview of the period from the 5th Century Roman Empire to the end of the First Millenium. There is rather a sense of information overload when reading this. Too much is covered in too short a time. Considering how long the book is already I can't see what could really be done about that. Even with all the names thrown at you it feels as if the author is really holding back.

The narrative sections dealing with the political history of the kingdom especially have an impressive number of indecipherable and hard-to remember names forcing the reader to slow down. The narratives are the worst part of this book reading almost like an encyclopedia article. Part of this is no doubt due to the bared down nature of the sources. Fortunately the chapters are reasonably short and the book will soon pass on to better topics. The author is at his best when describing trends or social conditions. Here he really shines and you can feel something of what it was like to live in these societies. Many of his choices of quotes are perfect, giving an idea of the feel of the society he's describing. The first Roman quote is probably the best. It comes from a children's Greek-Latin Primer and deals with Roman justice which was clearly a particularly chilling affair. The emphasis is always on discovering what changed and what caused these changes, as well as determining what made one culture different from another.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The period 400-1000 is a blank spot in the minds of most people, even for those who know a great deal about Rome and medieval Europe. What we do tend to know are a handful of decontextualized names (e.g. Charlemagne) and some stock images of bearded men in leather armor killing each other. Wickham, then, was faced with a formidable task: not just to introduce his readers to the Ostrogoths, the Merovingian kingdom, etc., but also to disabuse us of popularly held notions, like the precipitous fall of Rome in 476 or the discontinuities between Rome and its 'barbarian' successor states.

It's for this reason that I strongly disagree with the reviews complaining that this book has too many details, and should not have been marketed to a general audience. The many details are not the intended "takeaway" of this book. Rather, Wickham presents us with such rich anecdotes so that long after the names and events vanish from memory, readers will be left with a deep (and accurate) feel for post-Roman culture, society, and government. Given how shallow (and inaccurate) my feel for post-Roman Europe was before reading Wickham's book, I consider his book extremely effective.

On the dust jacket, a reviewer describes Wickham's writing as "pointillist." I think this description is apt. As with pointillist paintings, this work's intent can only be comprehended after you take a step back from the anecdotes. Wickham's prose is only difficult if you get too worried about remembering that Sidonius Apollinaris was so-and-so's son-in-law, lived in Clermont in the 5th century, etc. General readers need not worry about the details - Just keep on reading, and be confident that you will finish the book with a different understanding of 400-1000 AD than when you started.
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Format: Hardcover
Many people refer to the period of 400-1000 as the "dark ages." After the fall of Rome, when society in Western Europe shut down, people went back to simple, primitive ways - terms like savages and barbarians are often used - as they squabbled and fought against each other, killing mercilessly for a bit of land; the only beacon of hope the growing light of Christianity. I've never been a fan of the term "dark ages," or all the connotations, thoughts, and ideas that people - historians and laymen alike - infer from it. Thankfully there is Chris Wickham: a Chichele Professor of Medieval History at the University of Oxford and author of Framing the Middle Ages. Wickham has worked hard to educate those who are unsure or simply don't that the period from 400-1000 was one of the most important growth period of ideas, invention, and thought in the history of Western Europe. The Inheritance of Rome does a fantastic job of explaining this in comprehensive detail with viewpoints from all of Western Europe, including the Near East with the Byzantine Empire. I won't lie to you; this isn't an easy summer read; it's a heavy book in every sense of the word; but if you're looking to educate yourself on what exactly was going on between the fifth and eleventh centuries in Europe, after reading The Inheritance of Rome, you will have amassed an impressive amount of knowledge and be able to defend yourself and the period against anyone who attempts to call it the "dark ages.Read more ›
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